"Acting is the ability to live truthfully under imaginary circumstances." -- Sanford Meisner


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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Talk by Jack Neo - Crafting of a Script

Date: 7th March 2013
Venue: National Library, Singapore

Jack Neo related to us his acting and film making experiences in the last twenty years. Here are some points that I remember:

This post is written in the first person for readability. It is not an ad-verbatim of Jack's talk.

The Experience getting funding for Money No Enough
Questions asked by investors:
- Do you have car chases?
- Do you have fights?
- Do you have sexy girls?

The script doesn't, so the investors are not interested. Besides, they said that we (the artistes) appear on TV twice a week, so nobody will be motivated to buy a ticket to see us.

Eventually, we met up with an ad company that was trying to get into the film industry. That meant there were mutual benefits and therefore likelier to work. Besides, the company even have the necessary equipment to shoot a film. To entice them into the investment, we were willing to accept a smaller fee for the production.

When the production started, we realised that this old camera gave an irritating grinding noise. It was unbearable. We were in distress! The producer suggested adding music and so we did. Still the noise was evident. When the day for the press conference drew near, we were scratching their heads as how we could hide the noise.  Stuck in a dilemma, the producer suggested that the film be played on a TV and not big screen, since the noise on TV would be less obvious. Still I was nervous and didn't even dare to be present during the press conference.

Then during the conference, the journalists loved it. They said that it is humourous, uses dialects and even dare criticise the government. They feel very connected with the film as it is truly a Singaporean film. They can feel for the characters in the film.

And this was happening in the midst of the Speak Mandarin Campaign, where films must not have more thane 20% of dialects. We thought we are doomed to be censored left, right and centre, and the artistic integrity will be severely compromised.

However, when the time came, the chief censor felt that the film was fine, as it depicts the Singaporean life accurately and that indeed older folks speak more dialects than Mandarin; and so it was fine.

It was a new milestone for Singapore, breaking many rules using Hokkien, criticized the government and illustrated the typical mentality of the common man Singaporeans.

So the trick is to write something that touches the people's heart. In Singapore, it is commonly about Money and Love.

I also felt that my films are all happy films, in contrast to, and especially student films, that are mostly very dark  - about killing, blood, ghosts,...etc. Perhaps it is easier to write about dark stories than happy ones.

There is social responsibility as a director, especially to children. Children micmics film and bring them to their lives.

Ah Boyz to Men
It was too long a film, so we broke it into two parts. Then we felt that we ought to show a war scenario to catch the people's attention. But whenever a war scenario is thought of, the question is always about who the enemy is. So to circumvent the problem, we made the war scenario into a computer game. Some Singaporeans cry watching the physical destruction of our city state when they watch the film.

The other picture we wanted to impress upon the audience is the recruits' passing out parade march to the city. The display of the accomplished city skyline to remind the audience that there is much to protect in Singapore.


Question from the Audience:
How do your films fare in the film reviews? Do you make much of them?

My films always very jialat (dire) in film reviews. But in the end, the box office is a main measurement. Some of my films like "I Not Stupid 1 & 2:" travelled to China and Taiwan. Some of the students who watched the films in these countries cried and asked why the film understands them more than the schools or parents! These are useful feedback. When people can feel what I am going to express to them, that is very heart warming.

I also like to show positive attitudes in my films.

Question from the Audience:
How do you get your actors into character?
We give them training and time to practise.
Sometimes, it happens quite unexpectedly during audition. For instance, the little girl in the film "Home Run". We didn't think she performed well during the audition and rejected her. Then before going out, she said that she could cry, and so we asked her to cry (on demand), and she did. And so she was selected. Eventually, that little girl, Megan Zheng, then 10 years old, won the prestigious Golden Horse Award for Best New Comer.

Question from Audience:
How do you think budding film makers can start?
Do a short film first.

To make a film, it would take S$1m to S$1.5m to target for the Singapore and Malaysian market. That figure is quite tolerable. However, it is still quite some way to go if you are to target for the China and Taiwanese markets. Even if you have more money to hire some of the big stars from Chna or Taiwan, they may not be interested to come on board, as they may not be certain of the success of the film proposed.

Question from the Audience:
Now that you are successful and could possibly raise more money for your films, how do you think your film will change in nature?

What will not change for sure would be the comedy element and to write script that is close to the hearts of the people - about their daily lives. And to offer hope and a positive attitude.

Question from the Audience:
How long does it take for you to finish a script?

It varies. For "I Not Stupid", about two years. Usually about 6 months.
For "Ah Boyz to Men", it is a miracle. We started on December 2011 and finished it on March 2012.

We research everyday for our content. Also there are new technologies that enable us to make more impressive shots, like the recent use of remote control helicopters to capture the aerial view of the Singapore city skyline. If we were to use real aircrafts, it would be near impossible to get the approvals from the authorities.

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